It is just over 200 years since the Four Burrow was first formed as a Hunt Club. They take their name from the prominent landmark, the Four Burrows (Stone Age burial grounds), at the centre of their hunting terrain.
In those 200 years, changes have taken place that make the world of those days quite unrecognisable to the world of today. Very few things have in fact remained constant over the generations. A love of Hunting with hounds is one of them. As a result, for all of those 200 years, there have been dedicated people ready and willing to look after the interests of the Four Burrow, both the Hunt and the hounds.
Today’s Masters have a very difficult task. Public relations and management raise problems which even 30 years ago barely existed. Conversely, the problems created by distemper, the gin-trap and the great distances ridden have little if any meaning to the modern fox-hunter. In recent years in which the countryside has experienced more than its fair share of setbacks, including the Hunting Act, the Four Burrow Hunt has remained as strong and united as the day it was formed.
The Four Burrow Hounds were founded on January 1st 1780, and with them was formed the Four Burrow Hunt Club, so called because the Four Burrows (Stone Age burial grounds) lay as a prominent landmark at the centre of their terrain, which contained all Cornwall between Bodmin and The Lizard. Most packs of hounds in those days of two centuries ago took their names from their owners but the Four Burrow are unique in taking their name from a central point.
As early as 1565, Carew wrote about fox-hunting in the county. It may well be that there were already a number of small packs west of Bodmin and that this complicated the situation.
Perhaps the result was that their members or owners called the meeting on January 1st 1780 and the choice of name may well have been to prevent seniority being given to any one person or pack. It is also worth noting that the hounds originally belonged individually to the clubs’ members and not to the club itself, thus six couple belonged to Sir John Rogers, and J Vivian Esq had only one and a half couple. It is possible that these hounds were part of their owners’ private packs which had been disbanded.
That is conjecture, but it is a fact that records show that the county landowners led by the Vivian brothers and Sir John Rogers were influential in the founding of Four Burrow Hunt Club on January 1st 1780, and the club started life by having 15 couple of hounds, and that it hunted both hares and foxes.
Like many other famous packs of hounds, the history of the pack is also the history of a family. One of the most important dates in the history of The Four Burrow Hunt is 1854, in which year a member of the Williams family first became Master.
The sequence – Sir William Williams(1854-56), Mr Fred Williams(1856-57), Mr George Williams(1857-78) and Mr “Scorrier” John Williams(1878-1907) – shows how much the pre-First World War Four Burrow country owed to that family.
On the outbreak of the First World War the Hunt was closed down. Major W. Russell-Johnson (Master 1914) returned to his Regiment and his hounds were put down. The result was that there were no packs of hounds in the Four Burrow country, with the possible exception of the St Columb Harriers or `Four Burrow East’ which hunted hares as well as foxes.
Following the end of the war, Rugby Football was the only form of outdoor entertainment in the area, which many watched on Saturdays. As a result of this in 1921, 220 farmers sent a petition to “Scorrier John” asking him to restart the Four Burrow Hunt whose original hunting days were Tuesday and Friday. He refused saying that he was too old, but this gave rise to the Mastership of his son Percival (Master 1921-1964), who had returned from the war.
Unlike the first war, the outbreak of the Second World War did not signal an end to the Four Burrow. During the years of the war, Percival Williams kept the Hunt going, with the assistance of his sister, Mrs Douglas-Pennant, who whipped-in. Jack Matthews and Percival’s young son John also helped as and when possible and Dick Beare remained in the kennel.
This time the Four Burrow hounds were not destroyed, though they were reduced. The 1942 hound-list shows that the pack consisted of twenty-two couple of hounds, of which seven and a half couple were dog hounds.
Petrol coupons were provided for a terrier van and many of the meets took place on a request basis. Many members of the Forces managed to have the odd day with the Four Burrow during the war, one of the most welcome being Percival Williams’s nephew Captain G. T.Williams, who escaped from Italy after walking nearly 600 miles in 33 days. His brother, Brig. Stephen Williams, D.S.O., M.C., also came back to hunt, having reached British lines safely after spending nearly five months in the German-occupied Italian mountains. He returned home to find his hunter Smuggler, then in his twenties ready to take on the Wendron banks!
It is also perhaps of interest that at varioustimes notable hunting personages found themselves on duty in the general area and managed to scrape the odd day. One of these was the Duke of Beaufort’s former Secretary Major Gerald Gundry, who reported to his Master that he had been out with the Four Burrow and they were about the best pack he had seen.
Following the Second World War, Percival Williams continued his Mastership until 1955, when he and his son John became joint Masters, through to his retirement in 1964.
The more recent years have arguably seen the changes that have had the greatest impact on the countryside, and specifically hunting in theUK. The introduction of the Hunting Bill, and the associated ban of hunting with dogs has meant that the Four Burrow Hunt has had to quickly adapt and evolve to ensure compliance with constantly changing legislation.